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Ontario court upholds mandatory math test for new teachers

TORONTO — Ontario's top court has upheld the validity of a mandatory math test for new teachers, saying that a lower court decision declaring it unconstitutional was based on preliminary and incomplete data.

Premier Doug Ford’s government introduced the test in 2021 as part of an effort — including a new curriculum — to improve students’ scores on standardized math tests.

Results from the test up to July of that year showed significant disparities in success rates of standardized testing based on race, with white teacher candidates passing at a higher rate than racialized candidates. The Divisional Court struck the test down largely on that basis, finding that because it had a disproportionate impact on racialized teachers, it infringed on equality provisions in the Charter.

The Ontario government fought that ruling and the Appeal Court sided Tuesday with the province.

When looking at the test rates up to the end of 2021, the gap was much smaller because by then teacher candidates had the opportunity to rewrite the test. Teacher candidates are allowed an unlimited number of attempts to pass it.

At the end of 2021, 95 per cent of the 8,350 teacher candidates who had written the test one or more times were successful, including 93 per cent of candidates from racialized groups, the court wrote in its decision released Tuesday.

"The respondents’ argument that the adverse impact of the (Math Proficiency Test) on entry to the teaching profession should be measured on the basis of the results from first attempts of the MPT as opposed to multiple attempts is misplaced," the court wrote.

"Teacher candidates who do not succeed on their first attempt but are successful on a subsequent attempt are not barred from entry to the profession. Thus, with respect, there is an unsupported leap in logic from the observation that there are disparities in success rates on first attempts at the MPT to the conclusion that this demonstrates an adverse impact on entry to the teaching profession."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he is pleased with the decision.

"Ontario's grade nine math standard was introduced to assure parents that those responsible for educating students have the fundamental math skills they need to help students graduate," he wrote in a statement.

Teachers’ unions objected to the test being applied broadly to all teachers, questioning why a kindergarten teacher needed to be tested on secondary school math concepts or why an art teacher needed to pass a math test. The court noted that all certified teachers in Ontario may be assigned to teach math to students in Grade 6 or below and in some cases they can be assigned to teach Grade 7 to 12 math.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press